Cheshire Walk - Alderley Edge to Birtles

Keith Carter explores a landscape rich in legend and myth but finds nothing more mysterious than a great walk around Birtles

Our walk this month starts from the large National Trust car park next to The Wizard Inn on the B5087 Alderley Edge to Macclesfield road. Without this car park dog walkers would be considerably inconvenienced since every second visitor has a dog. Four-wheel drive gas-guzzlers predominate as you would expect from such an affluent area.

The Wizard gets its name from the local legend that an army of 40 knights lies resting in nearby caves and in the event of war would rise up to defend us led by the mythical Wizard. They must have decided World Wars One and Two were not sufficient threat for them to stir themselves into action.

Beside the pub is the Wizard Café, a favourite with cyclists and walkers. I have only one complaint: they had no mustard for my sausage barmcake although to be fair they got some mustard mayonnaise from the pub for me. Sausages without mustard are like jam without butter, sadly disappointing!

Alderley Edge is itself an area of great interest historically, archeologically and geologically, some of which I have covered before on walks described in the area. There are numerous way-marked trails well maintained by the National Trust. I have concentrated on the area to the south where quiet lanes, mixed woodland and field paths make for a nice ramble before lunch at the pub or café.

St Catherines, Birtles, a Grade 2 listed building

St Catherines, Birtles, a Grade 2 listed building - Credit: Keith Carter

1. Leave the car park beside the toilet block, cross the main road and take Bradford Lane almost opposite. There has been much thinning of trees to the left and right of the lane, a policy designed to open up the ground cover to insects and birds. At a T-junction, turn left into Finlow Hill Lane and continue along it until it turns sharply left where we leave it by keeping forward through a kissing-gate to follow a fenced path through a field.

Cross a stile and then stay beside a right-hand boundary to emerge onto a lane down some steps. Turn right. Coming to a crossroads keep ahead on a narrow lane past a red-brick property well protected by high walls. It was here that we became aware of a piercing ringing noise, soon identified as the burglar alarm ringing practically off the wall. The usual dilemma presented itself. Do you try to get help, ring the police, shout loudly or take some decisive action to alert the householder? We considered the options and yes, I admit it, did nothing.

Bull rushes along the route

Bull rushes along the route - Credit: Keith Carter

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2. The path meets an access lane to a farm and we go right to cross a cattle grid and walk down as far as a lane. Here our walk will take us left but by going right you can have a look at the unusual church of St Catherine’s, Birtles. In common with nearly all country churches now the door was locked so we had to be content with a wander among the gravestones, one the grave of the Phillips Brocklehurst family with an inscription that says the two sons were twins who had ‘a most devoted affection for each other.’ This was all we could find of Birtles.

3. Return to our route and stay on the road, keep ahead at a crossroads and on a bend, noting a former Methodist Chapel now converted into a choice property with five bedrooms and three bathrooms. The graveyard at the back is still in use.

The road comes to a junction with the Prestbury Road beside a half-timbered cottage once a forge. Our way is to cross over to take a narrow lane cutting down to the left and at a second junction, turning left opposite a lodge. In a few hundred yards, turn into an opening on the right with a brown sign saying Hare Hill. Follow the access track to a car parking area where visitors to the National Trust gardens leave their cars to proceed on foot. The gardens are open to the public but not the house which is in private hands.

Tree carving of a hare

Tree carving of a hare - Credit: Keith Carter

Some fine beech trees have been felled here, the timber lying about in heaps. A metal gate leads into parkland, the path through it designated by wooden posts that bring us alongside the ornamental lake to enter Alder Wood at a stile.

4. Pass through a mature plantation then cross a stream by a plank bridge where a carving of a hare stands. Turn left on restored paths and we come out of the trees and follow a line of fencing towards Danielhill Wood which we enter at a gap. We climb gradually through the trees to a brow then the path levels out and we come to a sunken lane crossing our way forward with an obvious gap in the wall. Don’t go through this gap however tempting it looks, instead go left and then take the straight lane enclosed by hedges that passes a restored cottage on the right.

Where this track bends left, leave it by a stile on the right and within a hundred yards go through a second stile in the hedge on the left. At a third stile the path is enclosed between hedges and at the fourth we go right then left to climb a bank to a hand gate. Keep forward to a gap and the enclosed path brings us out on a prominent track leading back to the car park past the National trust workshops. No sign of the forty warriors led by a wizard so we assumed war hadn’t broken out while we were on our walk.

Compass points

Area of walk: Alderley Edge to Birtles

Distance: 5 miles

Time to allow: 3 hours

Map: OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow, Macclesfield and Congleton

Refreshments: Wizard pub and café.

Further reading: The Wierdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

Accessibility: Not suitable for wheelchair or pushchair users.